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Garden Allies: Ants

Articles: Garden Allies: Ants

Honeypot ant (Myrmecocystus sp.) Illus: Craig Latker

Ants...As Allies?

In Aesop’s fable, the ant is held up as a paragon of industry. Carpenters, weavers, gardeners, harvesters, drivers, and honeypot ants all uphold the image of the hard-working cooperative society. The ant realm is endlessly fascinating, as the plethora of books and nature programs on the subject attests. When ants invade our homes, however, our admiration ceases, and we quickly perceive them to be pests. While few of us welcome ants as houseguests, in the garden most ant species are beneficial. There are probably tens of thousands of ants in the average West Coast landscape, mostly functioning as scavengers.

In gardens, pest ants are usually those feeding on honeydew, produced by homopteran pests such as aphids and mealybugs. On plants such as citrus, ants and homopterans are a problem, but in many cases, the role of ants is not easily determined. For instance, some ant species that are principally beneficial sometimes supplement their diet with honeydew when other resources are scarce. Some ants that are pests in houses, such as carp...

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